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Akron Council gives nuisance law ‘more teeth’

7/18/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

Plus, Council prepares to vote on grocery agreement, hears from flood victims

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Akron City Council voted July 15 to amend a city law regarding criminal activity nuisances.

Previously, the law, in effect since 2006, stated that if police were called to a residential property more than three times in a six-month period, the property owner stood to be assessed costs associated with the call. The amendment expands the scope of the law to include commercial, retail and vacant property.

The amendment, said Public Safety Committee Chairman Mike Freeman (D-Ward 9), gives the law “more teeth.”

The property owner would be given a chance to correct the nuisance, and the assessment is appealable, said Assistant Law Director John York.

Councilwoman Marilyn Keith (D-Ward 8) sponsored the legislation amending the law along with Councilman Jeff Fusco (D-at large). Keith said some businesses in her ward are requiring a high number of police responses.

Public nuisances include animal violations (such as having a pet running at large), noise violations, public indecency, prostitution, assault and menacing, littering, fireworks violations, open burning, curfew violation and some drug and alcohol offenses, among others.

In other business, Council plans to vote next week on a development agreement among the city, Mustard Seed Market and Highland Square Economic Development LLC for the Highland Square grocery store project.

Adele Roth, the city development manager who has been the point person on the project for several years, presented a flow chart to Council’s Planning Committee identifying the various players in the project and defining some of the moving parts.

Roth reiterated the factor moving the project forward now after it has been in the works for many years is the elimination of the “middle man” for-profit developer. The city will receive no rate of return as the developer, allowing the grocer to make a reasonable profit, she said.

“Creating a small-footprint grocery store in an urban area is very difficult,” she said. “There’s not enough profit for everybody who wants to have their hand out in that deal.”

When the city began looking for grocery operators, the promise was made that the operator would have three rent-free years. That arrangement stands, Roth said. The search for a grocery operator had been under way for more than five years before the city identified Mustard Seed.

“If it was easy, somebody else would have done it in 2005,” Roth said.

Mayor Don Plusquellic said the biggest problem with the Highland Square grocery has always been the size limitations of the site. He expressed his thanks for Roth and for Mustard Seed owner Phillip Nabors “for his commitment and willingness to take this on.”

Nabors was present for the meeting and spoke to the committee, saying he believes in Highland Square — where he and his family have lived for 30 years — and in the value of quality food. He said the reason his stores have an educational focus (as will the Highland Square store) is to teach people about quality food and why it’s valuable.

He said that the Highland Square grocery will help serve a “food desert” area where people without access to quality food often default to overpriced junk food that doesn’t sustain them.

“I believe in this neighborhood, and I’m willing to invest in it,” he said.

In other business at the regular Council meeting, Council heard from half a dozen residents of Jefferson Avenue and Westover Drive who said they experienced catastrophic flooding July 10 in their homes and the city needs to step up to correct sewer and drainage issues in the neighborhood to stop the flooding.

Judy Dorr, who said she has lived in her Jefferson Avenue home since 1976 and experienced at least 10 floods, is ready to give up but feels she can’t sell or rent out her house.

“I would really like for [the city] to buy my house and tear it down,” she said.

Beth Flora, also of Jefferson Avenue, brought pictures to show the “extreme flooding,” which she said occurred July 10 for the third time in two years. The rain caused “a lake to form in front of our house” and 4 feet of water in her basement, she said, adding the city has been aware of the situation.

“This is an unfortunate financial burden placed on taxpaying residents of the area,” she said.

James Schultz, of Westover Drive, and his neighbor Emiro Uribe, said $25,000 and $28,600 in damage, respectively, was done to their homes, and they also asked the city to alleviate the situation.

“I ask you to consider fixing these drains once and for all,” said Uribe.

Theresa McKowski, who said she endured the storm hearing “creaks and cracks” as her home sustained damage, said, “Homes have been ruined in a beautiful neighborhood that I have loved living in.”

The residents were invited to meet with Service Director John Moore following the Council meeting.

The following day, Dorr requested that any residents in the Jefferson Avenue/Westover Drive area whose homes sustained flooding or water damage contact her at 330-576-6642 or call 3-1-1 from a home phone in the city to find out about possible federal funding for cleanup costs.

The next Akron City Council meeting will take place July 22 at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers on the third floor of the Akron Municipal Building, 166 S. High St. in Downtown Akron. Committee meetings are set to begin at 2 p.m. that afternoon, also in Council Chambers.

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